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Saints at Colts: Five things to watch for Saturday

Drew Brees expected to get his first preseason action

  1. Saturday's game will be the first preseason appearance for Drew Brees, which is a welcome sight for his teammates and New Orleans Saints fans. Brees' playing time against the Indianapolis Colts will depend on the Saints' offensive efficiency. Historically, he said, the starters have played the first half of the third preseason game, but that could vary depending on how productive the unit is during its time on the field. Brees hasn't had a lot of training camp work with his receivers in live drills, so timing could be an issue. But the main thing is that he exits Lucas Oil Stadium without injury; he said the oblique injury he has overcome would have forced him to miss games during the regular season, too. So he obviously doesn't want to aggravate it.
  1. This category would top the list if Brees wasn't returning: Penalties. The Saints committed 10 in their preseason opener against St. Louis, and then pole-vaulted to 22 in the second preseason game, against Tennessee. Some of them were head-scratchers, and all of them were addressed in the aftermath. Simply, few teams manage to win games – of any sort – while committing 22 penalties. Coach Sean Payton said the Saints again may invite an officiating crew to practice, to re-emphasize to players the points of emphasis that officiating crews will be concentrating on this season. Perhaps better, Brees told teammates that they have to be accountable to themselves and to each other. We'll see if the Saints can slice down on the infractions totals against the Colts.
  1. For the first time, we should see the Saints' projected starting offensive line in the preseason. Both guards, Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans, haven't managed to play at the same time but it looks like both could and should be ready for the Colts. That only is good news for the Saints, who have fared well offensively with Senio Kelemete and Marcel Jones having manned the guard spots with the No. 1 offense, but should be better with the inclusion of two Pro Bowlers. Also, keep an eye on which center starts, Jonathan Goodwin or Tim Lelito. That could be an indication of who will start the regular-season opener.
  1. If you're looking for a definition of patchwork, take a photo of the Saints' secondary for the first two preseason games. New Orleans has been without safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Champ Bailey for most of training camp, and cornerback Patrick Robinson was injured in the first preseason game. Then, cornerback Keenan Lewis left the field early in the second preseason game. With this game perhaps being the final dress rehearsal before the regular season – the third preseason game historically has been the one in which the starters play their most snaps – it would be nice to see Byrd and Bailey on the field for the first time in a game situation, and for Robinson and Lewis to be healthy. Granted, it's not a necessity. Last year, receiver Marques Colston rarely practiced and didn't play until the preseason finale. But Byrd and Bailey, though veterans and possessors of great football IQ, haven't played or practiced much in Rob Ryan's defensive system. A few game reps alongside their new teammates would be helpful. Meanwhile, rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste and veteran corner Corey White have gotten valuable reps with the No. 1 defense.
  1. With Brees returning and taking the majority of the snaps with the No. 1 offense, the backup quarterback battle still will bear worth watching. Ryan Griffin (29 for 42 for 358 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions) has been fantastic in the first two preseason games, while Luke McCown (19 for 30 for 166 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception) also has had his moments. Each will have a lot less time to work with against the Colts, so each will have to make the most of his work. The Saints kept three quarterbacks on the roster for the final 10 games last year. It's possible Payton could go that route again but if he doesn't, these preseason games might be the separator between Griffin and McCown, which increases the importance of every series.

Photos of New Orleans Saints previous matchups with the Indianapolis Colts. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)

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